In my seven years of car ownership, the only time I’ve ever seen the “check engine” light was when I neglected to screw in the gas cap tightly enough on my Accord. That wasn’t very useful. But our ex-sibling site, Jalopnik, made the case earlier this week that there’s no good reason why car makers can’t just do away with the “check engine” light altogether, and have our cars actually tell us what’s wrong with them.
Jason Torchinsky argues that otherwise, consumers have no access to error codes that are impossible to access without specialized equipment, and are more beholden to potentially crooked mechanics.
Basically, the generic “check engine” light makes it easier for dishonest mechanics to take advantage of unknowing customers. Considering other car features that are federally-mandated — like tire pressure sensors and airbag warning lights — wouldn’t adding one to actually help the consumer make sense? It may be the only type of federal-required feature that makes sense.
Which is why we need a federal mandate that bans the generic “check engine” light in new cars and instead requires, on dash, OBD-II codes and a basic description. The only rational reasons it hasn’t happened yet range from a best-case scenario of simple manufacturer desire to build as cheaply as possible, to an actual deliberate campaign of forced ignorance in order to keep dealer network profit streams. Neither of those reasons — or any in between them — are valid or acceptable.
Personally, I look forward to being able to look at my dash and have it say, simply, “Tighten the gas cap, dumbass.”